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Inhospitable Beauty

boiling liquid condensation geology geothermal Photo by Kerry
It was at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone national park that I heard the siren call. My husband and I were walking on boardwalks constructed to lead us around thermal geological sites. We were chatting amicably about our trip, and how well our trip had all been falling into place.

I felt an inward tug get stronger and gravity pulling down right through my center. As we walked it became weightier and caused me to toggle between two worlds: the one where I was doing the Yellowstone tourist thing, and the other, where the landscape was reaching out, beckoning for me, pulling me down into its underworld.

It was a strange call, spectral, because it seemed to come from a Hellish place. Perhaps from Persephone, herself, held prisoner under the earth’s crust for so long, she’d become it. I could imagine her skin, the pale, fragile crust ready to give way beneath my feet, the magma of her torment less that 15 miles deep from where we were standing, pushing up and out, exploding ground water into steamy eruptions, releasing toxic gases and poisons so acidic to turn solid rock to bumbling, roiling mud, burping and farting in big gloppy squirts.

Her landscape ever in flux, by the quaking of her giant bosom, along her strong fault, the well-worn groove of not listening to her mother, of getting herself captured. So ancient now, a grand canyon scars the land and splits her in half.

The irony? Some explosions are quelled by her endless shaking. Open wounds turned to tombstones, silenced with the finality of Medusa's stare, as cute newborn eruptions spring up just a few feet away.

A woman’s tears, hot and full, creating rusty river beds, filling the acidic veins of Hades's streams.

The effect of this haunted entity became full when, amidst a backdrop of repetitive echoing of ghost drums beating to insanity in hollow cauldrons, hands of steam reached out from the earth and shrouded me right through my clothes, right into my intimate parts, and chased me around on a chariot of wind. I ran, worried the acid in the steam would harm my lungs, or disfigure my face.

This was alien territory, and only aliens answered back: diabolical bacteria that could thrive in tandem with this hostility, cleaving to the steaming water, creating rusty rings around deceptive hot springs of fatal blue; holding hands to form marbled and cascading steps, polished, shining and yet, somehow still sinister. Surely the perfect decor for a woman snatcher.

Whether the stuff of myths or not, as I stood there anchored to the spot, I couldn’t help but feel that I was looking directly into a vast mirror, the restless land reflecting back. It was a direct reflection of my most abhorrent humanness. An angry caldera, acting out, uneasy, uncomfortable, uncontainable. The heat and the pressure, pushing water up and out in explosive fits, thinning the cervix of the earth, needing to birth itself in stops and starts, afraid of the big blow--perhaps memories of the big blow, keeping it holding its breath just a bit, and a bit longer until the gaping blow.

A geyser gushing hundreds of feet, little by little readying the path for something bigger, more solid wanting to make its way into the world. The wonder of when and how. What would it take for it to blow its top, reconfigure the landscape, new over old? Would this be inherently creative or destructive? The dark dream of ash covering the sun? Trust the power, and light it, or hold it back, play it safe?

This paralysis, a weepy sickness, pussing, infecting, creating a wholly inhospitable and murderous home on the outside, as evidenced by tree bone-yards, long decimated (but not without humor, as the feet of the tree-bones are left painted white like my tuxedo kitten's paws).

And all this juxtaposed right next to fertile emerald forests, housing the wildest of the wild. Although, can I really count the lonely bison who pretended he was a car and walked nonchalantly, right with the flow of traffic, who we actually had to get up the nerve to pass, his 2000 lbs surely cracking the black top, like he cracked the boardwalks, when climbing over them to leave his own steaming piles near the toxic pools.

Death and destruction, housing and killing life. Certain life fed by poisons and boiling temperatures, right next to pristine coolness, oxygen rich forests, and fluffy wild friends threatened and killed by it. Living side by side.

There were warnings everywhere not to step on the thin crust of the thermal earth spots, for the risk of the crust being too thin, and falling in only to be dissolved into boiling acidic water, like an unfortunate tourist who slipped when he ventured off the path in an attempt to go hot-tubbing with his sister a couple years ago.

I recognized this warning sign too, that I should spell out a little more clearly every month. Do not leave the boardwalk. Do not come too close. Fragile, geothermal area. Danger. You may be dissolved.

This land was me. I was the land. The land was beautiful. Arrestingly so.

Therefore, was I beautiful?

The worst of this landscape soothed me, ever as much as the pristine parts. I felt welcomed, at home with all of my hellish, alien, intolerable parts. I felt like a part of nature that could be excused as wild, inhospitable beauty.

I needed that welcome.

Perhaps an obvious comparison, but I heard a scream of yes! Yes! YES! Maybe it was Persephone, making sure that no hell takes another woman again.

But the possibility was right under the surface of my understanding. I was nature. I was wild. I was beautiful. Even my toxic could be intoxicating.

art boiling eruption fog Photo by Pixabay on


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